Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Green Costa Rica

Costa Rica has been on my wish list for a long time. It just sounds so lovely, especially if your roll the R a little extra.

Two weeks ago we traveled to this amazing country for an 8-day holiday from Belize, with nothing more than a borrowed Lonely Planet guide book. Two easy one-hour TACA airline flights later (Wow, talk about service – TACA can teach a thing or two to American Airlines), we landed at Juan Santamaria Airport in San Jose. There we rented a small 4x4 car with a child seat and a GPS – the latter turned out to be worth every one of its 12 dollars a day – followed the perfect directions of the English-speaking GPS ‘turn right, keep left and go straight’, and arrived safely at a small hotel for the first night. Easy as ABC.

Driving around in Costa Rica is fairly uncomplicated, especially with a GPS, although the roads are not great -very narrow, curvy and there are lots and lots of over-sized trucks. Mix these three ingredients and what do you get? Traffic jams… not those we get back home but endless files of buses, trucks and cars stuck on small mountain roads, unable to move an inch forward or backward. Once we were stuck for five hours, in the dark and we feared that our Daihatsu Bego was going to be our hotel room for the night.

What’s really superb about driving in Costa Rica however is that you really get to experience the amazing micro-climates in this country. We drove for hours through the jungly rain forest in the mist – we could only guess where the famous Arenal volcano was– then suddenly took one turn and were driving through a dry, desert-type landscape with cactus and cattle ranches. In 20 seconds the landscape and climate conditions changed drastically.              



Same road
20 seconds later





Another interesting observation we made about Costa Rica, apart from the fact that it has no army, is its ‘greenness’ - its landscape as well as its efforts to promote sustainable and environmental-friendly tourism.
The highlight of our trip was a visit to the EARTH University. An amazing place in GuacĂ­mo, a small town in the middle of nowhere. With a grand entry of majestic bamboos that reminds of a five star resort, this private university provides full academic education to 400 students from 20 countries around the world, especially those from poor communities who, once selected, receive full scholarships. We were guided by Professor B.K. Singh, whom we had met before in Belize. The university is pretty self-sufficient; it has several income generating agri-businesses, such as banana plantations, a banana-waste paper factory (never knew you can make paper out of a banana stem), a dairy factory, a biogas project to generate their own energy and an export business for non chemical fertilizers and compost. A second source of income is a long list of private donors and sponsors.

Another unique feature of this university is that it combines agricultural academics with entrepreneurship. From day one the new students have to develop feasible business ideas that generate profits. This can be marketing organic cappuccino or making crafts from recycled materials. They can get a loan of up to 3,000 USD from the University bank to make their business ideas a reality. Students also have to do community service and international internships. As such they are very well prepared to become the envisaged ‘leaders and agents of change guided by the values of tolerance, respect and equality’.

At EARTH they also plant trees to offset your carbon footprints. Of course they recycle glass and paper and there is not a shred of plastic or Styrofoam in the gift shop or the canteen. To me it’s (ecological) heaven on EARTH!



See more on www.earth.ac.cr or www.earth-usa.org. Or watch my slide show with our private tour!!

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